Someone must have fucked up at the zoo, Rhodri thinks when he wakes up one morning and sees a flamingo standing on his recycling bin.
There's a flamingo on my bin, he texts his friend Lowri.
Bullshitter, she texts back, flamingoes being a sight uncommon in the grey-green winding valleys of South Wales.
But before he can get a good shot, the bird flies away, leaving only a suggestion of pink on a blurred photo of his backyard.
The next day, there are two.
Now there's two of the buggers, Rhodri writes.
Lowri replies with a picture of her own: three flamingoes pacing over her Fiesta, followed by the word Fuckinell and a flurry of exclamation marks.
On the drive to work, flamingoes are all Rhodri can think about. They wade about pinkly in his head, looking at once upside down and the right way up. Topsy-fucking-turvy, Rhodri thinks. The mountain across the valley is on fire, the flames tearing through the fernscrub and gorse and leaving great black patches of ash that will, after it pours and pours, contribute to the formation of an alkaline lake—the perfect habitat for flamingoes to thrive.
Kids again—Rhodri thinks while rolling his eyes—sneaking off to smoke ciggies in the bracken.
A line of pink birds threads across the sky, where once there would have been crows.
Down the pub after work, Lowri asks, "Rugby on Saturday, Wattstown girls playin' Ebbw Vale. You comin'?"
"Yeah," says Rhodri, getting his round in.
They do not mention flamingoes, but instead try to name as many famous people as possible who have never been photographed wearing predominantly pink.
Rhodri wins when Lowri names former First Minister of Wales Alun Michael and he finds a picture of him in a pink cowboy costume at a fundraiser for breast cancer.
On Saturday, the match is off. Pitch is flooded, Lowri texts. Neither of them know, but in the empty grounds, scores of flamingoes wade on the submerged grass.
Rhodri can no longer move for bloody flamingoes. They jostle him when he goes to buy tea bags from the corner shop; they peck at him when he climbs the steps to his front door. He can't help feeling like something is desperately wrong. The air feels different—hotter, wetter, and his taps keep getting clogged up by green gunk and what look like tiny prawns.
Lowri keeps messaging him with flamingo facts, one after another after another, like they're answers to a test he's forgotten to revise for.
There is silt all over the floor, ruining the carpet. Lowri sends Rhodri a picture of herself wearing a feathery pink coat and a plastic beak. She's got on pale skinny jeans that make her legs look like sticks. She's giving Rhodri the thumbs up. Below, she's written: If you can't beat 'em followed by a pregnant ellipsis.
Rhodri laughs at first, and then tucks his legs underneath himself and cries on his sofa. Behind him, damp creeps up the wall, causing the wallpaper to peel.
When he was a kid, Rhodri used to tease his mother by saying he wished he was English, insisting that he was going to change his name from Rhodri Jenkins to Roderick Johnson and speaking with a posh accent until his mother clipped him around the ear and snapped frustratedly in Welsh, "Stopia dy ddwli, y Dic Siôn Dafydd."
Stop your nonsense, you Dic Siôn Dafydd. It's what you call a Welshman who denies where he comes from and pretends to be English.
There are Dic Siôn Dafydds everywhere now, standing on one leg on what were once street corners, dipping their plastic beaks into the green-tinged waters. Rhodri can barely move for them as he goes for his car, and they crowd around him while he struggles to get the door open.
"Fuck off!" he cries out, knocking one of them to the ground with a splash. He looks down at it, the beak half hanging off its face, Lowri's face.
Lowri, who he's known since the first day of comp, who has the soul of a poet and the mouth of a sailor, who belts out Bonnie Tyler like a champion on karaoke nights and is the last one to ever stop singing, who now honks in distress and splashes away through the knee-high water. The rest of the flamingoes—whether real or costumed he can no longer seem to tell—turn and beset him with their beady black eyes.
He rushes back into the house, tripping over a bin bag stuffed with something lumpy and soft on his doorstep. He kicks it inside, locks the door, draws the curtains, hoping it's all a terrible dream.
You're not a flamingo, he repeats to himself. Just remember that. It seems so easy, but the whole world seems to want him to forget that one simple fact. "You're not a flamingo," he says aloud, but the words feel strange on his tongue. His legs, too, feel too thick; his arms, too gangly, unfeathered.
The electricity isn't working. The room is too dark to see. He opens the curtains a sliver, letting in a beam of light to banish the room's shadows.
The bin bag sucks in his gaze like a black hole in the centre of a galaxy, the words For Rhod scrawled on it in silver marker.
Reaching inside, feathers tickle his fingers.
He hangs the contents of the bag full length from the light fixture in his living room.
From outside, a swell of monstrous squawking, rising like a flood tide, overwhelms his senses, dropping him to his knees.
The flamingo costume looms before him, pink and brilliant like a rose-tinted dawn.